In our fifth blog in the series-connected to EPIC Engagement, we are taking a look into how leaders can be inspirational and what this really means in the workplace. If you have ever worked with or for an inspirational leader, you may recognise the sheer amount of influence, respect and integrity that they afford. You trust them and are energised when around them to go that bit further, to do that bit more and they instil an air of confidence in you and others that things can be achieved.
When we trust a leader, we assume they’ll act honestly and truthfully and be reliable with their actions and predictable in their ethics. We also assume that they won’t take advantage of our trust. Trust is the quintessential essence of leadership in the modern workplace and a crucial aspect of truly engaging with your people. At Emerge we would go as far as saying that it’s impossible to lead people who don’t trust you!
When employees trust a leader, they’re willing to be vulnerable to the leader’s actions – confident that their rights and interests will not be compromised. People are unlikely to look up to or following who they perceive as dishonest or who is likely to take advantage of them. Honesty, for instance, consistently ranks at the top of most people’s list of characteristics they admire in their leaders – it’s an absolutely essential component of leadership.
Now, maybe more than any time in the past, managerial and leadership effectiveness depends on the ability to gain the trust of followers. Why? Because in times of change and instability – which characterises most workplaces today – people turn to personal relationships for guidance, and the quality of these relationships is largely determined by the level of trust. In addition, contemporary management practices such as empowerment and the use of work teams require trust to be effective.
This particular article is related to the element of the EPIC Engagement framework known as Inspirational. We believe that this element is an essential element of the framework which is values-driven, that connects a leader with their people and galvanises employees behind the positive actions of their leader – they truly model the way for others to follow.
It’s a term often used, but what does ‘modelling the way’ look like in the workplace? One of Kouzes and Posner’s key practices as detailed in their work in the Leadership Challenge involves boundaries and frameworks, inspiration and leading by example. We can interpret how Kouzes and Posner’s practice translates into everyday working life and ensure your leadership behaviours are practised with integrity.
- Set out the journey
Modelling the way is all about effective movement and action. When change is suggested, or when people are prompted to move towards goals, chaos could easily ensue; leaders ‘modelling the way’ break down the bigger picture into small, achievable goals. They remove obstacles, complexity and red tape that could hinder a smooth transition. They implement boundaries and frameworks, so that people understand what is expected of them, behaviour that is/isn’t acceptable, and their individual role in the process. Leaders effectively signpost the way, directing and encouraging from the side-lines.
- Be infectious with your actions
Leaders modelling the way encourage others to follow by setting an example. They breathe life into the shared vision, with optimism and positivity. They don’t become flustered when things go wrong. Their actions align with shared values. Kouzes and Posner believe “values influence every aspect of our lives: our moral judgements, our responses to others, our commitments to personal and organisational goals.” Leaders go first, demonstrating the attitude, competencies and enthusiasm they wish others to adopt – their actions can greatly influence those of others. Anyone can talk a good talk, but they’re more likely to act if they see their leader doing.
“When people see you doing what you say, then they have the evidence that you mean it. Otherwise, it’s just words. Your actions send the loudest signals about what other people should be doing.”
(Kouzes and Posner)
- ‘Be’ the example
It’s difficult to expect honesty from others if you don’t practise it yourself; you have to show respect if you want to earn it, for example. Modelling the characteristics you need people to display will only work if you make them part of your values and everyday behaviour. Say Kouzes and Posner, “You have to model the way you way you want others to feel, think and act.”
Leaders spend time thinking of the characteristics they admire in other leaders and the lessons they extol, then consider how they can personally implement them during the process. This involves a great deal of self-awareness and personal audit, plugging any skills or knowledge gaps in order to lead people more effectively. According to Kouzes and Posner, the best leaders are the best learners. Show you’re not the ‘finished article‘, admit your mistakes, make them public, but demonstrate how they can be rectified or overturned. Placing your mishaps in the open removes the fear of failure for others.
- Consistency and communication
Treat others as you would like to be treated. Use language that’s positive and encouraging. To enable trust, these practices must be consistent. The predictability of your behaviour, attitude and values will build a framework for others – an environment where they can feel safe to express themselves, share ideas and opinions, and try new things. Employees crave predictability. Mistrust comes from not knowing what to expect.
Communication needs to be clear – there’s no room for confusion or ambiguity if you are to be an inspirational leader. Tell stories, educate through insight and consider how to celebrate successful examples of modelling the way.
It’s clear that leaders need to carefully consider the words they use, the actions they take, and the values they align with – their influence on others as a result can be significant. Demonstrating positive traits, therefore, such as enthusiasm, optimism, resilience, trust and encouragement can prove the powerful fuel for the journey you need your people to take.
EPIC Engagement is a solution for driving employee engagement through better equipped management practices. Our innovative solution should be considered as a comprehensive development programme, diagnostic and measurement aid for one of the most important business metrics to your organisation’s performance and productivity. The EPIC Engagement approach focuses on the two biggest catalysts to employee engagement – how employees feel about their work and the capability and influence of their manager. Through this programme, we will measure your manager’s current capabilities for delivering the kind of experience that will inspire their people to perform. Once they have mastered certain core aspects of management and leadership, we can continue to measure their ability to inspire, motivate and engage their people in the core elements of Expectations, Progress, Inspiration and Collaboration. Speak with Emerge today at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free and non-obligatory discussion around the EPIC Engagement programme.